Friday Fact: The Centurion protype weighed only 40 tons
My apologies for holding on to last week`s Friday Fact. It was not a day of interesting or fun facts, but a day of unspeakable and incomprehensible evil.
The 41 Main Battle Tank otherwise known as the Centurion is a remarkable armoured vehicle, the most successful tank design of the era, and its derivatives are still in service to this very day.
German eighty-eights posed a formidable threat during and after World War II, and in 1943 the War Office asked the Directorate of Tank Design to produce schematics for an armoured vehicle that can withstand a direct hit from an 88mm anti-armour gun. General Staff designation A41, also known as the Centurion was introduced in 1945.
The initial design plans of the Centurion were just below 40 tons; that was the weight capacity of the Mark I and Mark II transport trailers.
The first prototype, the Centurion Mark I had a 76 mm armour on the front and a solid 152 mm on the turret. Utilising the Rolls-Royce Meteor engine, it proved to be highly mobile.
In other words it was an absolute dream of a tank.
The War Office quickly realised that the weight limitation would squander the potential of an otherwise superb design.
The final version of the A41 Main Battle Tank otherwise known as the Centurion was just over 50 long tons, 80-152 mm armour, a 105 mm Royal Ordnance L7, and despite all the weigh a glorious speed of 22 miles per hour.
The Centurion has lost its virginity in November 1950 on Korean soil. It also proved to be a quick guide to winter warfare. Due to the rather extreme weather, it was a matter of be quick or be frozen to the solid ground for the British Army`s 8th King`s Royal Irish Hussars.
From Korea to the Gulf War the Centurion has seen a dozen theatres of war.
The A41 has more than eighty variants, including basically everything you can strap on the top of the chassis, ranging from 183 mm tank destroyers to portable ramps and Makara anti-tank missiles launchers.
A Centurion Mk3 was used in an atomic experiment at Emu Field in South Australia. The purpose of the Operation Totem trials was to determine the acceptable level of plutonium in a nuclear device. During the course of the first test they have placed 169041 on an isolated location and detonated a nine kiloton nuclear bomb. The tank was positioned just below 1500 feet from ground zero. The detonation misplaced the Centurion by five feet and melted its antennae and blasted away some of its armoured sideplates by five hundred feet. Much to the amusement and satisfaction of its engineers, the tank was still battleworthy. If there were any way for the crew to survive a nuclear explosion, they would be able to drive the Centurion away!
Subsequently registration number 169041 also known as the Atomic Tank was given an opportunity to prove it is in fact indestructible in Vietnam: In 1969 it was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade. The crew were all wounded, one of them had to be evacuated, and the grenade itself lodged in the rear right corner, but the tank remained operational. Quite a stubborn little beast, isn`t it?
In 1990 Vanguard has undertaken the task of moving a Centurion from the National Army Museum in Chelsea. A 600 ton hydraulic gantry system and a very professional crew battled the fierce gale and secured the fifty ton main battle tank on the trailer so it could have a safe journey to the Museum of Army Transport in Beverly, Humberside.
The Chairman of Vanguard Group, Mac McCullagh was given command of three Centurion tanks when he was posted at Fallingbostal, Germany. No wonder he was particularly interested in the project.
The Centurions are slowly coming to rest, gradually being replaced by new models. But being the most successful tank design of the Cold War, they will never be forgotten.